By Art Gordon - Shore Sports Network contributor

MANCHESTER - Coming to practice on Monday afternoon after a lop-sided defeat at the hands of cross-town rival Jackson Memorial, no one could fault Jackson Liberty head coach Jim Sharples for wondering what was in store for him.

He had already spoken to his coaches about being upbeat and trying to encourage his young Lions. To his surprise, none of this was needed.

“We had our best week of practice,'' Sharples said. "We had 100 percent attendance, and the kids were excited and ready to go. They could have buried their heads and moped around, but I give them a lot of credit, they came ready to work.”

All of this was evident as Jackson Liberty evened its record at 1-1 with a hard-fought, 27-21 victory over Manchester (0-2, 0-2) in a Class B South game on Friday night.

Jackson Liberty junior quarterback Ryan Van Wickle, shown earlier this season, had three touchdown passes to help give the Lions their first win with a 27-21 victory over Manchester. (Photo by Phil Stilton)

“We were very confident coming in, and other than a letdown in the third quarter I think we played very well,'' Sharples said. "We righted the ship and finished strong."

After a scoreless first quarter, the Lions (1-1, 1-0) struck first after a Jordan Billups interception at their own 37-yard line for the first of three interceptions on the night for Jackson Liberty.

The Lions only needed three plays to hit pay dirt, with senior wide receiver Mike Stout accounting for 59 of the 63 yards. He started by catching a 40-yard fade pass from junior quarterback Ryan Van Wickle where he used his 6-foot-2 height advantage to outjump a Manchester defender. Two plays later, he scored when Van Wickle hit him on a 19-yard slant pattern. After the first of three extra points by Braden Yorke, the Lions led 7-0.

“We knew that we had a good match-up with the height of our receivers, and the coaches showed us how the linebackers might drift on coverage, so we were looking for our fades and slants,'' Van Wickle said.

Manchester immediately answered with a 7-play, 65-yard drive. The big play was a 29-yard run by Kwaku Owusa, who broke two tackles and bounced outside for a big gain. Two runs by sophomore Alex Lunn for 26 yards put the ball at the 1-yard line, where sophomore quarterback Steven Rodriguez scored on a keeper to tie the game at 7-7.

It looked like it would go into the locker room with the score knotted until a high snap  forced a short punt by Manchester and the Lions were in business at the 45-yard line.

After an incomplete pass and an intentional grounding penalty, senior Brett Ribellino broke off a 28-yard run, followed by a 10-yard run, in between two incomplete passes. Ribellino then caught a 19-yard slant pattern from Van Wickle with only 10 seconds remaining to give Jackson Liberty a 14-7 lead at halftime.

Ribellino was playing after attending a funeral earlier in the day for one of his best friends.

"He left everything on the field, and it was my pleasure to award him a game ball tonight,'' Sharples said.

Ribellino carried that momentum over into the second half when he returned the opening kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown. He broke two tackles and reversed field before outrunning the defense for a 21-7 lead.

The Lions extended the lead to 27-7 three minutes later after a Brian Mathieu interception on Manchester’s second play from scrimmage. They wasted no time going 41 yards in four plays, with senior running back Dom Regina rushing for 37 yards and Yorke catching a 3-yard touchdown pass on a slant for a 20-point lead with 8:30 left in the third quarter.

The Hawks answered with a four-play, 45-yard drive following an unsuccessful onside kick to cut the lead to 27-14. Mike Rosario, who had a career-high 114 yards rushing on 14 carries, scored on a 17-yard run to trim the lead.

Manchester continued to fight, going on a 10-play, 84-yard drive to cut the lead to 27-21. Sophomore wide receiver Alex Lunn had two big receptions on the drive, which was capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Rodriguez with 10 minutes left in the game.

Jackson Liberty answered with a 12-play, 60-yard drive that took just under six minutes off the clock, but it ended with a misses field goal on a 28-yard attempt by Yorke. Manchester had one last good opportunity, but Jackson Liberty's Ken Pommerencke all but iced the win with an interception.

Box score

Jackson Liberty 27, Manchester 21 

.                       J                 M
First downs      9              12
Rushing          25-152      48-282
Passing           7-17-1       2-9-3

Passing yards    128          21

Penalties            10-65       7-45

Fumbles-lost          2-1       2-0
Jackson Liberty (1-1, 1-0) 0 14 13 0 - 27
Manchester (0-2, 0-2)         0 7  0 14 - 21

Scoring summary:

J: Stout 19-yard pass from Van Wickle (Yorke kick).
M: Rodriguez 1-yard run (Mercado kick).
J: Ribellino 19-yard pass from Van Wickle (Yorke kick).
J: Ribellino 75-yard kickoff return (Yorke kick).
J: Yorke 3-yard pass from Van Wickle (kick failed).
M: Rosario 17-yard run (Mercado kick).
M: Rodriguez 4-yard run (Mercado kick).

Individual statistics

Rushing - J: Dominick Regina 11-81, Ryan Van Wickle 10-20, Ryan Brennan 3-23, Brett Ribellino 1-28. Man: Steven Rodriguez 8-32, Mike Rosario 14-114, Jahsir Cooper 6-16 Kwaku Owusu 8-42, Alex Lunn 7-46, Shavar Reynolds 5-32.

Passing -  J: Van Wickle 7-17-1 128. Man: Rodriguez 2-9-3 21.
Receiving: J: Steve Schuster 1-10, Mike Stout 3-86, Braden Yorke 1-3, Brett Ribellino 2-29. Man: Alex Lunn 1-10, Reynolds 2-11.
Interceptions - J: Brian Mathieu, Ken Pommerencke, Justin Billups. Man: Vinny LoForte.